Inji Efflatoun was a painter and political activistThroughout her career, her work addressed topics such as independence, class struggle and women’s rights, often using strong colors and brisk brushwork. Efflatoun showed interest in art at a young age, and was encouraged to develop her talent by artist Mahmoud Said (1897– 1964), who also convinced Kamel Al-Tilmisani (1917–1972), a founding member of the Egyptian Surrealist Art and Liberty Group (established in 1939), to mentor her.
As an artist committed to the social issues of her time, Efflatoun painted portraits that reflect on the conditions of the common people. There are slight differences in style in the two works shown here, as well as in the motifs and other elements of the paintings. Country Sheikh was probably made before Efflatoun’s imprisonment, between 1959 and 1963, during Gamal Abdel Nasser’s regime. Compared to the later Portrait, its colors, applied with thick brushstrokes, are darker and more condensed, suggesting a parallel between peasant and prison life. Her 1967 Portrait is characterized by a lighter tone and subject matter, which are emblematic of the style that Efflatoun developed until her death in 1989. Although mostly rooted in the sociopolitical context of 1960s Egypt, her paintings’ subjects and the social realities they depict remain as relevant as the ideas of freedom for which Efflatoun always fought.